Picturing Indian Territory: Portraits of the Land that Became Oklahomaed. by B. Byron Price
This engaging book provides a valuable visual overview of life in Indian Territory, while also chronicling the activities of well- and lesser-known painters there.
In the first of the book's three essays, "Indian Territory, 1819–1861: Romanticism and the Spirit of Discovery," James Peck demonstrates how artists reflected the interplay of Romanticism and scientific inquiry that characterized American military expeditions in the West, though occasionally over-interpreting a few of their works. The vanguard of these, Thomas Nuttall, Samuel Seymour, and Titian R. Peale, focused on geographical features and wildlife. Fifteen years later, George Catlin arrived to gather material for much of his career's artistic output. Another well-known painters of American Indian life, John Mix Stanley, in three years of intermittent visits, not only executed Indian portraits but also produced International Indian Council (Held at Tallequah [sic], Indian Territory, in 1843), a companion to his Tehuacana Creek Indian Council of the same year in Texas. Heinrich Baldwin Moellhausen, a draftsman and topographer and the last significant artist to work in the territory before the Civil War, concentrated on architectural and natural features.
In the second essay, "Indian Territory, 1861–1907: Turmoil and Transition," B. Byron Price notes that while the area was of relatively little strategic value in the Civil War, it soon saw conflict between the U.S. Army and various tribes. Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer's surprise attack on an Indian village on the Washita River in November 1868 was illustrated by Harper's Weekly correspondent Theodore Davis as well as by other publications. Four months later, artist Vincent Colyer arrived as a member of the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners. In addition to several Indian portraits, his pencil sketches and watercolors depicted distinctive landforms and at least one military installation. Railroads soon facilitated reporting from the region, as exemplified by James W. Champney's illustrations in Scribner's Monthly (1873) and others by Paul Frenzeny and Jules Tavernier in Harper's Weekly (1874). In what would become western Oklahoma, CarlJ. A. Hunnius, a German artist, sketched forts and settlements while on an 1876 surveying trip. American magazines sent a trio of artist-reporters in 1888: Frederic Remington (Century Magazine), Rufus Zogbaum (who worked for Harper's Weekly and was considered Remington's equal), and [End Page 335] the somewhat lesser-known George Foster (Leslie's). Price notes the symbiotic relationship between army and artist, exemplified by artist Henry Farny's joining General Nelson Miles on an inspection tour of the territory in 1894. Centering his activity at Fort Sill, Farny produced several portraits, including one of Geronimo, autographed by the sitter. Three years later, the president of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History sent his nephew, E. A. Burbank, to execute a portrait of Geronimo. Finally, Price discusses the earliest efforts of homegrown Oklahoma artists and of New Jersey artist Charles Schreyvogel's paintings depicting Custer's "Battle of the Washita," which Remington criticized as inaccurate.
The third essay, Mark Andrew White's "On to Oklahoma: Reportage, Spectacle, and Statehood," focuses on "land runs" in the 1880s and 1890s that opened the territory to settlement by non-Indians. Using newspaper and magazine illustrations, White details the frequent efforts by "boom-ers" to settle there illegally and on their confrontations with the U.S. military. "Reportage" bled into "spectacle" when Buffalo Bill included the colorful boomer David Payne in advertising for his Wild West show. Such spectacle reached its zenith in 1888 when the Wichita (Kansas) Board of Trade enlisted one of Buffalo Bill's most popular performers, Major Gordon William Lillie ("Pawnee Bill"), to renew efforts to open Oklahoma to settlement. However, Congress acted first, authorizing the first of five land runs in April 1889. White uses promotional literature, city views, and photographs effectively to convey the speed and skill with which settlers built new towns like Guthrie and Oklahoma City. Depictions of western Oklahoma ranch life by folk artist Augusta Metcalf spread in the years just prior to statehood (1907).
This volume's only significant deficiency is the lack of maps to track the travels of the various artists and to provide a sense of the spatial relationships between the many locations depicted in their works. However, the many color illustrations, some never before published, are just one reason that this book will be indispensable for the study of visual depictions of life in the trans-Mississippi West.